Speech by Mr Jukka Valtasaari, Secretary of State: Finland and the EU Presidency - an Agenda for the New Millennium, London 4th May 1999

London School of Economics and Social Sciences
London, Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Mr. Jukka Valtasaari,
Secretary of State,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

First of all, I would like to thank the organisers of this seminar for inviting me and my colleagues to speak about the EU under the Finnish Presidency. It is always a pleasure to come to London. It is also a great honour to talk to this distinguished audience at the Nordic Policy Studies Centre, and it is quite a challenge to address the ambitious topic given for this presentation. But please be warned: I am not going to offer you a vision valid for even a fraction of the next thousand years. My thoughts and suggestions will be traditionally Finnish, which means they are pretty much down-to-earth and stem necessarily from our own experience. I presume that the point of the rotating Presidency is to provide an opportunity for EU members to take a fresh look at the Union´s traditional agenda at regular intervals.

Unlike most continental European nations, Finns never had the time or resources to develop heavy bureaucratic structures, whether in business or in public administration, nor had they any liking for them. Finns adopted and put into practice the principles of flat organisation long before that precept was reinvented by management consultants. An individual in a Finnish organisation is expected to use his or her common sense, will be given a lot of freedom and is fully responsible for the way it is used. Bold ideas are applied in the contest over innovation, investments and market shares. The high technology leader Nokia is a prime example of this boldness and dynamism. In public administration new information technologies have done away with layers of hierarchy. In the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, use of internal and external e-mail and the resources of the Internet are not privileges accorded to the few, but tools expected to be used by all.

It can thus be argued that small size creates opportunities to be agile, and agility can be a source of strength. But this was not always a Finnish asset that was universally admired. When Finland´s relations with the Soviet Union were being settled in the aftermath of the Second World War, Stalin’s Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, denounced "the small-country arrogance" of the Finns with the words: "The fact that Finland is small does not automatically mean that she is right".

In March this year, the newspaper Le Figaro quoted the French EU Commissioner, Madame Cresson, as saying: "With the accession of Austria, Sweden and Finland, the Union acquired elements new to continental European traditions". As good Lutherans, we Finns tend to think that reform is a good thing per se. I hope we can be excused for pitting the reformist Commissioner Erkki Liikanen with his straightforward northern mind against the labyrinthine hierarchies of Brussels.

Less than two months from now, Finland will assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time. We have taken this task very seriously indeed, not only by preparing to chair a plethora of meetings and to master the substance of even those issues that we had the liberty to take more superficially before, but also by thinking, at times philosophically, about the type of leadership that can be reasonably exercised by a small country in a big international organisation. One of our conclusions is that in the post-Cold War situation, all leadership - however big the players are - requires the ability to form coalitions. Small countries, which cannot assume that their values are automatically shared by others, must blend their national priorities with regional, continental or even global ones, while contributing whatever added value they can to the coalition. In other words, leadership requires that others perceive the country in the leadership role as a relevant actor and a credible partner and a consistent promoter of policies that represent the interests of the coalition. If these requirements are met, size is not a priority.

Do we have particular goals for the Presidency, beyond what is obviously required in pushing forward the union’s internal and external agendas that have been set out for us in the form of decisions and declarations by previous Summits? The answer is yes. In the EU context it is hard to honour the good rule that two is the maximum number of anything to be remembered. I will limit the number to a modest four.

First. We want to contribute to a successful enlargement of the Union. It is a task of historic proportions, and it needs to be done if we want to be true to what we have systematically professed and worked for over the past decades: a unified Europe without political or economic fault lines.

As early as the 19, President de Gaulle spoke of a unified Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. Since 1969, the Euro-Atlantic Community has steadfastly, little by little, built a common set of rules of behaviour to be followed by all. At the end of the 1980s, when the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union collapsed, Cold War divisions disappeared and our old continent seemed to be well on the road to Europe unified. Ideologies were dying, peace was breaking out. In the EU the Maastricht Treaty was adopted and politicians were greeting the universal victory of democracy and drawing the architecture of the common European house, when in fact nationalist dictatorship and war based on ethnic hatred were creeping in again through the back door. The end of history was proclaimed just when history was about to be repeated.

It happened in the Balkans, as Slobodan Milosevic decided to question the acquis of European unification. He succeeded in imposing a crisis on the rest of Europe and the entire Euro-Atlantic community, inflicting untold pain on hundreds of thousands of people under his control and causing his country’s development to be set back by decades. If anything, this conflict proves that there is no reason for complacency. On the contrary, the tragedy in the Balkans demonstrates that EU enlargement - involving commitments both by the members and the applicants - must be pursued vigorously. If not, there is a risk that former political divisions will be replaced by economic ones and that our resolve to bring about a unified Europe will be seriously questioned.

The first test, I am afraid, will be the re-establishment - after the war - of stability in the Balkans and the reconstruction of the economies of the region. A number of proposals, including a stability pact, the equivalent of a new Marshall Plan, a big-scale peace conference, have been mentioned. The task will be daunting.

Second. We want to achieve significant progress in justice and home affairs. There is a direct connection here to the relevance of the Union in the eyes of its citizens. What difference does the union make to them? Do they feel the impact of the Union in their daily lives, and if so, how? Topics such as money laundering, trafficking in drugs and people and other crimes are not only of great concern to the citizens of the Union but are truly global issues, and thus part of the external affairs of the Union as well. We have to cope with them globally, but locally we have to show our citizens that they are better off and safer with and inside the Union than they would be without and outside it.

Within the Union, the growth of well-being and prosperity is to a large extent predicated on the mobility of production factors. While capital moves literally at the speed of light, energy grids are integrated and merchandise passes through borders with a minimum of fuss, the mobility of the work force is still very low. A decision to pack up and move from one’s own country to another, in a multicultural and multilingual union, is difficult enough. It should be made easier by establishing similar or at least predictable legal procedures, regarding visa and asylum policies, immigration, border control and legal protection in different parts of the Union.

Third. In the globalizing world it is increasingly difficult to promote employment, growth and stability, a goal reaffirmed by most if not all recent Summits, on an exclusively regional basis. In a world where capital and production processes are mobile, industries move and governments deal with consequences. The primacy of competitiveness and growth should be a common goal in these circumstances, even if it is less obvious when one looks at the long list of trade disputes that dominate the transatlantic agenda. The United States and Europe have seldom been in a situation where they are the two movers of the world economy. This should be an incentive to try to promote the international trade agenda on the grounds of its potential for growth and stability, not only in transatlantic relations but globally in the WTO as well. This is definitely a Finnish priority.

Fourth. Since Finland is the one EU country that shares an immediate border with Russia, it is more or less expected from us that we will try our best in this respect. Depending on one´s perspective, Russia belongs on the global, the European and the Northern agendas. Today, with only the United States in the superpower category, with Russia trying hard to redefine the terms of its new international engagements and with Europe becoming increasingly synonymous with the European Union, the shared interest of the EU, the US and Russia is to a large extent perceived in terms of avoiding the worst. The immediate tasks are dictated by the need to avoid a new Chernobyl, to control transborder pollution, to prevent garage sales of nuclear weapon designs, to rein in epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis and diphtheria and to clamp down on organised crime. Most of these issues require a global approach to enable effective implementation of regional and local measures. Most of these items are firmly planted on the agendas of almost all bilateral and multilateral dialogues and institutions that deal with Russia.

Yet, like the great Western statesmen of the Second World War who were planning for peace when the war was still being won, we should try to lift our sights from the immediate concerns of avoiding the worst to determining the common interests that might serve as a basis for the integration of Russia into Europe and into the Euro-Atlantic world. There are good candidates such as nuclear energy issues and the rule of law.

In the EU we have two things in mind. After the adoption of the Russia strategy of the Union approved in Cologne, we will immediately submit a plan of implementation, which emphasises the rule of law in general and the safe production of nuclear energy in particular.

Moreover, the policy of the Northern Dimension of the Union will be further refined during our watch, at a special ministerial meeting in November. The Northern Dimension is based on four assumptions. First, with the accession of Finland and Sweden, the EU acquired a new dimension reaching far into the north as well as a common border with Russia. Second, in Europe, western institutions such as the EU and NATO are extending eastwards, while the centre of gravity of post-Soviet Russia has moved north-west. Third, nearly half of Russia´s export transit routes are in the Baltic Sea area. Fourth, most of Russia´s raw materials, including its energy resources, are in the north. In our view, the agenda of the Northern Dimension of the EU combines regional, European-wide and global interests. It also offers an opportunity to identify long term joint interests and the potential of Russia, in addition to avoiding the worst in the short term.

We Finns give particular attention to the Union´s external affairs for at least three reasons. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we remain in the vicinity of a strategic area. At least until the next expansion of the EU, our eastern border remains the only immediate interface of the European Union with Russia. In the globalizing world, there are ever fewer issues that can be dealt with by Europe in an insular manner. It may well be that the success of our Presidency will not be judged by how much we can advance the union’s own agenda and how swiftly the baton is relayed to the next president but, for instance, by developments in Kosovo and their ramifications for future crisis resolution mechanisms of the Euro-Atlantic community.

Indeed, in the area of external affairs of the Union, it seems to be a fair conclusion that the development of the Union was fuelled by a combination of external impulses and internal logic. Having been first propelled by an external impulse, the Marshall Plan, the Union then evolved from free trade objectives, via a single market and a single currency, toward forging a common foreign and security policy - all in all a remarkable development.

It is therefore crucial that the Union brings more coherence to its common foreign and security policy as well. The new Mr./Mrs. CFSP not only needs a desk and a telephone but he or she needs also to give a human face to the Union’s foreign policy and organise its planning and implementation in a way that meets today´s requirements. One conclusion from Amsterdam was that there is no good reason for being slower or sloppier in our collective foreign policy than in our national ones, if we want Europe as a political actor to be taken into account and not taken for a ride. In our considered view, an energetic and effective common foreign policy is good for the union, and vital for its smaller members - like Finland - which are most in need of an international environment characterised by codes of conduct and the rule of law.

Now, the entire Euro-Atlantic community is moving together toward expanded strategic concepts, promoting common interests "out-of-area" (to use the NATO term) and setting up crisis management and peace- keeping mechanisms that fit real life requirements out there in the Balkans, instead of reflecting on the results of careful word-polishing exercises in meeting rooms in Brussels. The recent NATO Summit in Washington seems to have further clarified the modalities of cooperation and the division of labour between the alliance and the Union.

In this presentation I have tried to offer you an analysis of a few of the big issues that the EU will have to deal with in the coming months. I have tried to avoid predicting the small, detailed steps that Finland will initiate in order to sustain movement towards the big goals. If you accept this analysis, I suggest three conclusions.

The first is that the management of the external policies of a strong Union requires the making and implementation of a number of "domestic decisions" at the national and Union levels. Enlargement is the most obvious example. It requires primarily that the vision of a unified Europe guides all behaviour and action by governments in the short and long term. It requires also that funds are channelled to the applicant countries to enable them to pursue policies aimed at transition in a manner that meets the Union´s requirements. Another example is justice and home affairs, which are not linear extensions of the acquis of national and international legislation, but rather a contribution to the efficient use of resources as well as tools to bring the Union closer to its citizens.

Finally, Russia is not just another item that is increasingly difficult to deal with in view of recent event. Developments in Russia have been a defining factor in many an international issue in past years and there is no reason to conclude that things would be different in the future even if they are conceptionally difficult to understand. What does one think about a country of 150 million people, with a GNP just two-three times that of Finland and with a federal budget actually smaller than Finland’s - but with a space programme and nuclear weapons.

The second conclusion is that the European Union has developed from a promoter of free trade into a fully fledged Union, whose credibility depends on its actions on the global scene and on the perception of it in the eyes of its citizens, industry, and the entire world. At the same time the world has become increasingly horizontal and the Union´s compartmentalised structures do not fit in with ease. For instance, the Commission has a mandate to discuss first pillar issues and to a degree third pillar issues. Yet many assumptions on the basis of that discussion are extraneous to the EU, or otherwise have a solid second pillar dimension where the Union still lacks the "face" and the organisation.

And the third conclusion is that small steps have always been Union´s way of approaching issues. No doubt this will continue and offer even small countries a good opportunity to lead, provided they get the big picture right.